Routes Into Law
Don’t believe the lie that there’s only one route to becoming a solicitor! Don’t think that if you studied law then a legal career is your only option, that if you didn’t study law you’ve missed the boat, or that you have to plough straight into a training contract after university. Let me introduce you to a few almost-colleagues who will mostly take the mantle of blogging this time around! We’ve all got Training Contracts at the same Magic Circle firm, but we’ve all had different experiences along the way…
Born in Northern Ireland, I’ve had the opportunity to move and travel, and have loved the linguistic and cultural opportunities that has given me. I’ve lived in Brazil, Northern Ireland, France, the US and am now back in London! I can speak English, French, and some Spanish and Mandarin, I wanted to use and improve these interests in my study and work.
I studied History BA at UCL, focussing on modern Chinese legal history in my dissertation. I found it fascinating to see how law had such a fundamental impact on the social and economic structure of modern China. As a result of this I did some internships in commercial law. I completed an internship in BP's legal team, an internship at International Senior Lawyers Project, vacation schemes at a US firm and at Magic Circle firm and spent one year working in market research (researching advertising and branding). I really enjoyed the work I did in these internships and decided I wanted to work in an international firm, where I could use my languages and work on projects with other lawyers from around the world.
Taking a year out to work was the best thing I did - it gave me experience in a professional, client-facing environment; and it gave me time to consider which area of law was best for me. I would recommend talking to as many lawyers, trainees etc as possible - to get an idea of life in legal practice, and the different paths open to you in a legal career. These conversations will also help prepare you for when you are writing your Training Contract (TC) applications and going to interviews - as you can show that you understand the reality of working in a law firm. Also ask your careers team at your university to review your TC/ vac scheme applications.
Now in my mid-twenties, I’ve finished the LPC and am about to start work, I don't think I would actually change anything about the route I’ve taken!
After an engineering degree at UCL, I worked as an engineering consultant for a while. It's a broad field, but essentially, I helped clients with their infrastructure. This could be designing something new, or inspecting something old. The day-to-day started out as producing calculations and reports, then I ended up moving more into management before eventually leaving. I was seconded to a contractor for a year, working on a major London project. This was a site-based role, and I loved it; it really felt like the type of practical problem solving I imagined engineers doing. Deciding how to dig the hole, where to park the machines, where and how to store your materials to optimise construction.
I am proud of the time I spent in engineering; I had some incredible experiences - and met some fantastic people. It taught me a lot. But I realised, slowly, that the path I was going wasn't actually fulfilling me.
Initially, I actually planned to go back to a site-based role, so I could feel more in control of the construction. But around the same time, I was being increasingly exposed to more commercial and legal issues around the projects I was working on. This really captured my attention. It was fascinating to think about how much of the industry was governed by the law (which seems very obvious in hindsight!).
So, I signed up for a few courses at my professional institution. I talked to a few friends in the legal industry. I made contacts with a few others who had made the same transition from engineering to law. Over a couple years, one thing just kept leading on to another. Eventually, I decided to give the GDL a try, and started applying to firms. I would have loved to come to this realisation earlier in my life, and made the moves slightly quicker. But if I am really honest, I think I needed the time to think it through, consider my options and mull over the consequences. Ultimately it helped me understand why I was even bothering to make the change. So, I would not change anything I suppose!
I started a degree in public relations straight out of high school in Australia but dropped out halfway through second year. Spent a few years working in film, banking, hospitality and office work and then went travelling to study tap dance at tap festivals in North America. Joined a burlesque troupe in Canada and performed for 6 months before returning to Australia and producing my own burlesque and variety shows. Produced a sell-out 5 star show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and then came to live in the UK. Established a career as a solo cabaret performer in London and picked up temp and part time legal secretarial work on the side to supplement my income (cabaret is a career you do for love, not money!). Realised that I was very interested in the law and that my cabaret work was fun but ultimately lacked the progression I was looking for. Went back to uni to complete an undergraduate law degree and absolutely loved it. Realised I left it a bit late to apply for a TC in my third year, panicked, then managed to get a vac scheme at a Magic Circle firm while also working there as a part time legal secretary. Absolutely loved the vac scheme and was offered a TC. Definitely enjoyed taking the scenic route to law and looking forward to seeing where it takes me.
I studied an undergraduate law degree in Sheffield, with a year abroad in Aix-en-Provence. I speak English, decent French and beginner-level Italian. I grew up in the North of England and moved to London for the start of the LPC.
My first real work experience happened pre-A-levels, doing a Sutton Trust Summer school to Cambridge for a week of playing-the-law-student in a Hogwartesque setting, followed by a week of work experience on a programme run by a silver circle corporate firm, based in Leeds. I loved the corporate experience and since, have tried to explore various areas of law to really find where my interest lies. I got experience mostly through online applications, emails, calls and friends of friends. I’ve done a vacation scheme at a Magic Circle firm, a summer working for an in-house legal department, research involving a placement with a US corporate firm in Milan, work experience with high-street and silver circle firms, pro bono for a year at university, experience in a county council legal department, winning a legal writing competition and having an essay published in a European law blog. I engaged in open days, mock interviews and networking events throughout university. This has all been over about six years of having an inkling that I might like to do law and just intentionally exploring and pursuing that interest.
All of this experience was immensely helpful at showing me what I did (and definitely didn’t!) want to do in the workplace. The pressure to make a decision on which direction to take your career in can be intense; you don’t have to decide straight away, but don’t imagine that you’ll wake up one day and simply know! It’s not that easy! Try lots of options to see what you enjoy and don’t enjoy – it will help lots when it comes to making career decisions. Look for ideas online, send emails, make calls and apply for different things, you’ll be surprised how many places you can get into if you just show an interest and ask politely!
In all of this, relish the opportunity to get feedback! Whether it’s university work, a review of your work on a particular project, applications or placement… ask how you can improve next time. You’ll learn what professionals in the industry are looking for, be able to more clearly identify and build on your weaknesses, and see which areas of law suit you. The experiences I’ve had have been the result of lots of rejections, but I’ve seen big improvements in asking how to progress, dusting myself off and trooping on.
Given my time again, I wouldn’t change my route particularly, I loved my law degree, my year abroad was a highlight and the subject matter and teaching style in Sheffield was engaging and enjoyable, allowing me to explore lots of different areas of law. I would love to have taken more time to travel, study and to have a greater mastery of various languages, but am excited to develop and use my language skills and loves of study and travel when I start work!
I studied an undergraduate degree in Law at UCL but never aspired to be a lawyer, choosing law was just a coincidence as a result of options available from the A-Levels I had. I ended up really enjoying studying, but still didn’t settle on law as a career (in fact I was adamantly opposed to it when asked by others), until my final year of uni.
I never did a gap year so went to Singapore on exchange, where I was exposed to a wide breadth of people from all over world and new culture. The experience made me more open to different job opportunities and life experiences. By the end of it, I decided to stay and do some internships in law in another country. I did internships by just cold calling via email 10s of different international and local law firms, and asking friends of friends if they knew anyone. It ended up that a friend’s wife was head counsel in-house at an offshore company (basically leasing boats instead of cars to oil companies), and from the email spam got an internship with a Magic Circle Singapore branch, and a local major law firm. The internships were actually the first work experience, let alone legal experience, I had obtained thus far (now in my 3rd year of uni), so for anyone reading this post who has no experience by the end of their time at university don’t let that deter you!
By the end of my internships, I saw differences between various work cultures, and life in a big city law firm. I decided it was for me. I came back to the UK to finish my final year and did plenty of applications. I was rejected throughout.
I took a year out after graduation to attend careers events to gain insight on how to improve my applications etc. Turns out I was doing them completely wrong. In the meantime, I secured a scholarship with the British Council Gen UK programme to intern in China for 3 months (securing more legal experience). Luckily, I secured a job offer within 6 months of graduating.
Top tips if you’re applying for a job in law:
Don’t let a lack of experience deter you. Everything substantive mentioned above happened in the end of my 3rd year onwards, and even then, when I graduated I had to take time off.
Friendships and networking really help, that’s how I secured that first initial in-house internship. Even just email spam counts. People tend to be more willing to assist than you would think.
You don’t need to take the traditional route. I didn’t know I wanted to do law until my year abroad, and even then, it was through random internships in other countries. These other routes also have advantages as overseas offices often have less stringent application procedures (which I did not realise beforehand). For example, my internship with a major Magic Circle law firm in Singapore didn’t even involve an interview over the phone or in person, simply my initial email asking if there were opportunities.
Applications are like a game, once you learn how they work, your success rate will sky rocket. Just attending a couple of free legal workshops after graduating meant instead of non-stop rejections, I had offers for interviews, training contracts and vacation schemes from about 90% of the places I applied to.
I grew up in Newbury, a cute market town in Berkshire. For my A-levels, I then moved to a small village, just south of the Cotswolds, before studying an LLB at Cardiff University. I didn’t manage to secure a vacation scheme during my time as a student. However, I was heavily involved in all things SU, such as volunteering and societies. In my third year, rather than focusing on law firm applications, I decided to run in the Student Union elections. I knew the chances of winning the election were slim, but I decided the process would significantly enhance some of my transferable skills, and add something different to my law firm applications.
I was fortunate to win, and spent a year as Vice President Welfare Officer, before becoming SU President. Being an elected officer was a massive personal development experience. After this experience, I felt ready to tackle law firm applications and interviews, and felt comfortable and confident throughout a Magic Circle vacation scheme I completed. Ultimately, I believe I will make a better lawyer because of my time at the SU, and this came through in my applications. Focus on developing yourself and it will pay off in the long run.
I completed the Winter Vacation Scheme 2018 at a Magic Circle firm, and was offered a Training Contract there. I also attended many open days and workshop days at various law firms.
My top tips for applicants would be that research is key! A well-researched application, which links your strengths and experience to the firm, will help you stand out. Dig deeper than the headline news, you need to make your application unique. Read the Financial Times, look at Chambers Student, and don’t under-estimate how much information is on a law firm’s website. Go beyond the career pages and explore the main site of the firm’s website. Yes, this takes a lot of time, but it is worth it.
Also, do not under-estimate the importance of vacation schemes.
Once I had finished university, I spent some time applying directly for Training Contracts, despite not having attended a vacation scheme. I got nowhere. Law firms want to assure themselves that you definitely want a career as a corporate lawyer; after all it is a tough job. Therefore, you need to experience the inner workings of a firm, either through a vacation scheme or as a paralegal.
Finally, if you are studying a law degree and hoping to go into corporate law, make sure you remember the key legal principles you are being taught. In academia, it is very easy to get bogged down in academic arguments and nuance issues, but in practice, and during the LPC, it is the core legal principles that matter. Don’t forget them!
I’m from Hangzhou, China and have spent time in China, Japan, the UK and USA. I moved to the US after high school and studied a Bachelor of Arts (double major in Economics and Political Science) at Rice University, Houston, Texas.
During my university years, I had a couple of public policy research internships at different think tanks in the US, Thailand and India. (Yes, I was serious about a career in the public sector back then.) I also had several admin jobs on campus to get spare cash.
After university, I spent 3 years as a paralegal at a boutique litigation firm in Houston. (I did not consider law as an option until the last year of university. Instead of going straight to an American law school, I took on this job, because I had my doubts. To me, becoming a lawyer takes a rare kind of commitment professionally, financially and personally and I wanted to be sure this is what I wanted for my life.)
I’ve taken my time figuring out what I wanted to do, and have done a year studying patisserie at le Cordon Bleu between my GDL an LPC. I’ve been able to take time out along the way to travel and develop languages (I speak English, Chinese, Japanese and un petit peu de français!). My top tip would be to try it out first if you are not sure about a career. Talk to people. Be patient with yourself. My top tip would be to try it out first if you are not sure about a career. Talk to people. Be patient with yourself.
I wish I was more decisive, but I wouldn’t want to change anything about my route into law, because all my travel and work experiences have helped me become more aware of who I am and what I like. I am more committed to a career in law than ever.
Away from the office
I certainly found it easy to think that only a certain ‘type’ of person would make a successful lawyer. Not an introverted bookworm like myself, but work-hard play-hard types… Whenever it came to the ‘extracurricular’ section of an application, I personally felt I was scraping the barrel whilst open days I attended were filled with people who could sky dive, pilot planes or competed on national sports teams (some of my future-colleagues can claim those achievements, but I certainly can't!). Different firms have different cultures, and it’s worth investing time into seeing where you may fit, but wherever you go, you’re sure to find a variety of personality types, and hobbies amongst colleagues…
I was obsessed with climbing for a long time after my undergraduate degree, but about three years ago I got hooked on Brazilian jiu jitsu. My joint pain has migrated from my fingers to just everywhere.
My free time is filled with running, hiking, rock climbing, painting, spending time with friends and family.
I love food, coffee, books, languages, travel, photography, church, family and friends – so most of my free time gets filled up with those things!
I’m a keen long-distance runner, I enjoy reading, and playing my flute and piano. I also love catching up with friends and exploring new areas of London. Finally, I enjoy escaping to the country to go on long walks with my dogs.
I read, cook, explore London (I love open spaces), hang out with friends and exercise. I’m currently addicted to barre classes.
Hopefully the above shows that there’s no set route into a legal career! Make the most of the opportunities you have, and capitalise on exploring areas of interest to you. Take steps to find out what you enjoy and the area of law you may like to work in. Do feel free to get in touch with any further questions if that would be helpful! Good luck